Russia and the coming global food crisis, political instability, and new migration wave

As the war in Ukraine rages into its second month, its devastating consequences may reverberate around the globe. On top of the tragic loss of life and population displacement in Ukraine, the world may be on the verge of a global food crisis. Just last week, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned that this could particularly affect Africa and the Middle East, major importers of Ukrainian wheat and corn, leading to food shortages, price increases, and possibly social and political unrest. In 2011, the rising price of grain was one of the driving forces of the Arab Spring, which toppled governments and led to mass flows of refugees to Europe.

In Brussels, this has triggered a difficult conundrum for the EU. Copa and Cogeca, the two main associations representing European farmers and agri-cooperatives respectively, called on the Commission to create a “food shield” that would protect Europe from the Russian government’s attempts to use food security as a weapon. They therefore asked the EU to allow for all available land to be cultivated in 2022 so as to compensate for the lack of supplies from Russia and Ukraine. In contrast, a group of NGOs in the environmental and food sectors recently released a statement asking the Commission to implement its proposed Green Deal, Farm to Fork, and Biodiversity Strategies without any delays. They came out strongly against any expansion of farmlands and called for a “just transition” towards agroecology and “small scale extensive and animal welfare-friendly practices.”

For their part, the EU institutions seem internally divided. The European People’s Party, the largest in the Parliament, asked the Commission on 8 March not to present the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU’s incoming greener agriculture rules, due to the impact of the war. Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski also suggested the objectives of the strategy may have to be revised. But Vice President Timmermans, in charge of the Green Transition, warned against relaxing said goals. “Don’t believe in the illusion that […] you would help food production by making it less sustainable,” he said.

To address the crisis, the Commission this week published a Communication on food security that allows farmers to temporarily use fallow land for the production of crops for food and feed purposes, establishes a €500 million support package, and relaxes state aid rules for farmers. The goal is to tackle rising food prices in Europe and to avoid possible ramifications in third countries that rely on European food imports.

While it is unlikely for the EU to face food shortages—until recently, food waste was a greater concern–prices will almost certainly increase because of higher oil prices. In other regions of the world, the outlook is much grimmer. Forbes recently reported that the war in Ukraine, coupled with other problems such as droughts and climate change, could cause hungers in regions of the Middle East and Africa. This could in turn lead to political instability, military conflicts, and possibly new refugee waves.

We are closely monitoring the economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Europe, the food supply chain, and politics. Let us know if you need help navigating these changes, too.

You can reach us at brussels@instinctif.com and the author of this article at jose.arroyo@instinctif.com.